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5 longest running reality TV shows

American Idol Judges
American Idol Judges
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

A number of reality shows become among the top rated shows on TV. The appeal to these types of shows varies from living vicariously through the cast to identifying with the situations endured by participants. Similar to sporting events, fans become spectators, develop attachments to cast members and cheer for favorite reality show participants. The popularity of reality shows continue attracting viewers.

"The Real World"

Developed by MTV, "The Real World" premiered in 1992. The show follows the daily lives of up to eight members, aged 18-25 years of age, representing a wide array of demographics. The chosen cast members live in a luxurious environment. Audiences watch as they deal with a number of circumstances that include economic, social, emotional, physical and psychological challenges. In its infancy, cast members were expected to obtain and maintain employment. In later seasons, participants were given financing, guidance and the option of starting a business. "Real World" spawned two spin-off shows entitled “Road Rules” and “The Challenge,” which later became known as “Real World/Road Rules Challenge.”

"Road Rules"-1995

Sister show to "The Real World, Road Rules" debuted in 1995 and lasted until May of 2007. The show developed after three Real World members journeyed cross-country before arriving at the Los Angeles house location. The show followed six strangers, aged 18 to 24, who lived in an RV and drove from one location to the next while earning money and supporting themselves by completing and winning various challenges. As they drove around the country, participants obtained clues to each destination and mission. The show was nominated for an Emmy in 2001 and spawned the “Real World/Road Rules Challenge,” which remains in production.


The show first aired in 2000 and is based on a Swedish TV series entitled “Expedition Robinson.” The series involves a group of adult strangers brought to a desolate location. The participants must survive by forming two tribes and obtaining food and shelter. Each show also has all of the contestants compete in challenges for a reward or immunity from the process of elimination by the tribe. The last survivor wins a one million dollar prize.

"The Amazing Race"-2001

The series began in 2001 and pitted couples in teams against each other while competing in a cross- country race that required contestants to arrive at various locations. At each location, each duo received clues for the next leg of the journey while avoiding the position of last place. Teams are gradually eliminated until three remain. The first team to arrive at the last point of the race receives the grand prize. As the series progressed, the race went international and had couples traveling from one country to another. "The Amazing Race" has amassed 13 Emmy Awards.

"American Idol"-2002

Since its inception in 2002, "American Idol" starts each season with three celebrity judges traveling across country to compile a group of talented singers. From this large group, the field narrows to 24 and then 12 contestants. Every week, the remaining members perform and vie for public votes to continue on the journey of becoming America's next idol. The competition eliminates one contestant each week until two remain and the idol is finally revealed. The show spawned eight spin-offs that include “American Idol Extra” and “American Idol Rewind.”

The immense interest in watching everyday people encounter a countless array of situations keeps viewers tuning in to reality shows. Whether interested in adventure, business, creativity or the daily lives of people living in specific geographic locations, there is a reality show designed to appeal to everyone.

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